City Attorney Pete Holmes on Wednesday charged Seattle Police Officer Chris Hairston with misdemeanor assault in connection with a Sept. 24, 2012 incident in which the City alleges Hairston intentionally assaulted a handcuffed man who was being detained by police for assaulting Hairston’s wife, also a police officer.
Katherine Hairston and a fellow officer had responded to a report of a person passed out near Seattle Central Community College. The officers contacted several people who were drinking alcohol, and one of them assaulted Hairston. She was treated at a hospital for a head injury and scrapes to her hands and knees.
After officers had placed Katherine Hairston’s 23-year-old assailant in handcuffs, her husband, Chris Hairston, a K9 officer on duty elsewhere at the time, arrived on the scene, walked up to the suspect and, it is alleged, intentionally assaulted him. The other officers separated Chris Hairston from the handcuffed man and reported the officer to their commanders. Chris Hairston was placed on administrative reassignment for an investigation by SPD’s Office of Professional Accountability. Chris Hairston’s actions were captured on a police dash-cam video. By law the City cannot release the dash-cam video to the general public until the end of potential civil and criminal litigation.
The penalty for a misdemeanor assault conviction is up to 364 days in jail and a fine of up to $5,000.
Katherine Hairston’s assailant, John M. Ross, was charged with third-degree assault by the King County Prosecutor’s Office (case 12-1-055111). He pleaded guilty to fourth-degree assault.
In the other recent officer-involved case that Police Chief John Diaz referred to the City Attorney’s Office, Holmes has declined to charge Officer Clayton Powell with misdemeanor assault, relying on the opinion of an outside use-of-force expert hired to do an independent analysis of the Aug. 2, 2012 incident.
On that day Powell and other officers responded to an “aggravated assault” radio call at 3713 S. Othello St. As the police were investigating, roughly 25 young men gathered and began yelling taunts at the officers. Some allegedly yelled racial slurs at Powell. The tactical situation became precarious as the angry group surrounded the officers. Powell and one of the young men became separated from the crowd and got involved in a verbal exchange. At one point, the officer removed his police badge and hat.
During the verbal back-and-forth, the young man spat on Powell’s face; in turn, the officer pushed him in the chest. Another officer immediately took the young man custody. During the handcuffing process, Powell grabbed the young man’s hair and pulled it back. The young man was taken to the South Precinct and placed in a holding cell. While he was in the holding cell, Powell was captured on video taunting him and, at one point, acting as if he were going to strike him. The young man was not referred to CAO for charging.
The City’s use-of-force expert, Gregory Yacoubian, a lawyer in Los Angeles and former LAPD lieutenant, determined it was not substantially likely that a jury would convict Powell of misdemeanor assault, based on his review of the video and facts of the case.
Although Yacoubian did not believe a misdemeanor criminal charge should be filed, he said, “Clearly, Powell’s conduct indicates he should be evaluated regarding his fitness to continue in police service…”
Holmes said Wednesday, “Although I find Officer Powell’s behavior extremely troublesome, it is critical that I exercise due diligence and fairness when making a decision to charge or not charge a person with a crime. Although I determined that criminal charges were not warranted in this instance, I will continue to hold police officers responsible for their actions that violate the law.”